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Paint it Back PC Review

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of puzzle games and even more so of nonograms (more commonly called ‘picross’ these days). They are like little chunks of brain-exercising fun you can snack on wherever you are, even with only 5 minutes to spare. The rules are incredibly simple to learn and there are literally an infinite amount of possible puzzles as they can grow as large as need be and still be completely solvable without guessing. Paint it Black simply delivers a new batch of content, themed around works of art from a museum that has been wiped clean after a ghost ‘scared’ away all the paintings. Of course, as a common puzzle game, the story is silly and unnecessary but it really is way more fun when a nonogram’s solution resembles something and the more ridiculous the better – like a little reward for completing the stage, which is where this game shines. Some of my personal favourites are ‘Mugged While Tightrope Walking’ and ‘A Lovestruck Leaf’. Plus, if the story’s playful charm sways even a few people to try out the game it will have done its job because there’s no doubt they’ll be hooked.

For those who don’t know what picross is, you poor souls, it’s a terribly addicting type of puzzle that I guess is best to compare to something like Sudoku, for simplicity’s sake. Basically it’s a 2D grid with sets of numbers lining the X and Y axes – one set for each column and row of the grid. These numbers, their spaces, and their order represent which squares of the grid should be coloured in, eventually creating some pattern or shape. By using a bit of maths for overlapping lengths, looking at the intersecting ‘coordinates’, and the spaces on the grid to determine where must or must not be filled in, the newly uncovered and unusable spaces themselves then become clues for the squares around them. It starts off quite simple, but evolves into a deep and challenging pastime, where the more hardcore of puzzles can sometimes take up to an hour to beat. Whereas Sudoku can only get so complex as the grid always needs to be 9×9 and there needs to be at least 17 clues to solve them uniquely, nonograms can grow and grow, especially being digital.

Not only are there limitless possibilities, but there are also a variety of ways to spice them up. For example there have been speed-based simpler puzzles, humongous puzzles broken up into sections, and even going so far as to add a 3rd dimension! And that’s before any of the truly exotic things are added, such as the uncovering and clue ‘powers’ that Pokemon Picross introduced. Although, Paint it Back sticks to the basic format of having a grid and being able to colour in a square or mark it with a cross, as a note to self not to fill it in. There were 150 main puzzles ranging from child’s play to head scratchers to brain destroyers, until an update last year added a bundle of artistic portraits of the big names from the 2016 US election, just for fun. There’s also an interesting endless mode called ‘Mystery Masterpiece’ which presents a random puzzle that can be solved in special ways for achievements, such as against the clock or never using the ability to ‘cross out’ a square.

What makes Paint it Back stand out though? Well it’s on the PC for one, where most every other picross game has been on a handheld Nintendo console. This changes a lot. Firstly, nonograms are nice little time-killers, especially on the go, which is obviously lost on a PC. Secondly, a touch screen is easily the best way to play. It makes everything so much easier to control, being able to fill in complete lines at a time with a single stroke, which is much harder when using a mouse. In fact, I disliked using my mouse so much I grabbed my graphics tablet and used that instead – much better, but unfortunately a luxury not everybody has access to. Honestly it just feels wrong to play picross on a PC. Using such a large screen for small, simple puzzles and not being able to take them with you is really awful and I can’t say I’ll ever be playing a picross game on the platform again. Although, by complete luck I found that Paint it Back is also available for iOS and Android, which tugged at my curiosity. So, I downloaded the free version to my phone and tablet instead, which comes with a whopping 75 puzzles (half of the full game).

The X and Y axes cleverly move in as the player zooms, making it much easier to play the larger puzzles

Wow. I had to re-do all of the puzzles I had already completed on the Steam version but it was totally worth it. The game runs incredibly well and the controls just blew me away. Having the touchscreen to manipulate the squares is an obvious move but when pinch-zooming for accuracy, the axes of the puzzles move in with the view, so it’s always easy to see what you’re looking at and what you need to do, which even the picross titles on the 3DS didn’t do as well. Not only that, but even a handheld system can be a chore to carry around whereas it’s extremely rare to not have one’s phone, making it the most portable and usable picross game out there. Did I mention that it cloud saves too, so I can jump from my tablet to my phone and back as needed?!

So, not only is the Android/iOS version much more playable, it’s portable, still has all of the achievements, cloud saves for even more portability, allows the first half of the game to be played for FREE, and costs significantly less than the Steam version (£5.59 on PC as opposed to £1.79 on mobile, which obviously buys both tablet and phone version for the chosen platform). Unfortunately though, it does still lack bringing anything new to the table, leaving Pokemon Picross as the reigning champion, but it will definitely continue to be my go-to game-on-the-go for a while. Here’s hoping that future updates will continue to drop in more and more puzzles or that a sequel with a few more features gets developed and soon, because I’m smashing through these stages and it’s hard to tear myself away, even to write this review.

7 out of 10